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Ayodhya verdict is the best of a bad bargain

Last updated on: October 8, 2010 08:30 IST

Ayodhya verdict is the best of a bad bargain

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Legal purists and other busybodies have questioned the verdict of the three-member bench of the Allahabad high court apportioning the disputed land in Ayodhya equally among three petitioners, and bringing in matters of faith into their judgment. But the people of India have responded in a mature and wise manner. India has moved on, and is moving on.

In every neighbourhood across the country people want access to drinking water, to sanitation, to electricity, to better roads, better schools, better hospitals. In a land struggling for a better life, there is a remarkable consensus on the need to move on. Those pre-occupied with legal niceties are missing the woods for the trees.

Interestingly, the three parties to the dispute have themselves taken a more accommodative stance, with even the more aggrieved calling the verdict 'a step forward'. What is it a step forward to? Quite clearly, to the end of a long-standing dispute not just about the ownership of a piece of land but about other felt grievances within India's two dominant religious communities.

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Image: Muslims leave after Friday prayers at a mosque in Lucknow
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
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All other institutions failed in the matter

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If the court has done the job of a panchayat, as one critic put it, so be it. It was, after all, not a matter for the courts to adjudicate. By abdicating their responsibility to arrive at an amicable settlement between two communities of people, the leaders of both communities, of the various religious organisations and of political parties and other civil society groups willy nilly landed the matter in the lap of a court.

Anyone who imagined that this matter can be resolved by courts is living in a make-believe world. The reason why the matter went to the courts is because civil society, religious groups and political parties failed to resolve it.

With all other institutions failing, the courts were the only ones left to resolve a dispute between communities, between their alternative views of history, between their unshared view of a shared history. Even though it is the court that was called upon to give a verdict, the verdict itself could not have been a purely legal or legalistic one.

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Image: Paramilitary troopers escort lawyers for the Ayodhya case litigants in Lucknow
Photographs: Reuters
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The temple has become the symbol of a resurgent Hindu community

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The fact is that the Ayodhya dispute was not one about facts. To imagine that the dispute could have been settled on facts and legal principles alone was nonsensical. Whatever the original motivation of those who implanted the idol of Lord Rama within the premises of the Babri Masjid, the idea of building a temple to Lord Rama in the place of his birth became a symbol of a resurgent Hindu community that felt betrayed by the partition of British India along religious lines.

It is not just the Bharatiya Janata Party that has understood this aspect of the issue. When the Indian National Congress under Rajiv Gandhi's leadership opted to perform shilanyas in 1989, it took a similar view.

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Image: Priests read newspapers inside a temple in Ayodhya
Photographs: Mukesh Gupta/Reuters
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The judges chose to walk an untrodden path

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The three learned judges of the Allahabad high court wisely chose to walk an untrodden path. They mixed faith with fact, opinion with belief, history with mythology and produced a judgment that seeks to calm nerves, gives everyone something to celebrate and something to complain about.

It is difficult to imagine how the learned Supreme Court can significantly alter this judgment. If the Supreme Court reverts to a purely legal view, it would end up making one of the two parties even more aggrieved. Maintaining the balance of disappointment within the two communities at the present level is the best of a bad bargain.

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Image: A security personnel keeps guard atop his armoured vehicle outside the high court in Lucknow
Photographs: Mukesh Gupta/Reuters
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